SPORTING clubs are walking a tight-rope of litigation if they don't control crowd violence and allow players who are not registered to participate on the field, according to a prominent local barrister Nicolas Harrison.
Harrison, who has a long history in local sport including serving on soccer, league and union judiciaries, said it was time for clubs to take a proactive stance against crowd violence in light of an incident last month that left a 16-year-old boy nursing head injuries after being head-butted by a member of the crowd at Nimbin.
It was alleged the victim was assaulted by the boyfriend of a girl who was playing in the mixed Under-16 match after the game.
The crowd member has been banned from all soccer-related activities for 10 years and the girl given a two-year ban by a Football Far North Coast panel.
Nimbin Police said they are investigating the incident and interviewed a 17-year-old Nimbin boy on July 22.
The incident has been referred under the Juvenile Offenders Act to determine if criminal charges should be laid or whether mediation is appropriate.
Harrison said it was up to clubs to attempt to control unruly crowd behaviour.
“Let's face it: 90 per cent of people at a game are not a registered member of the organisation or any sporting body,” he said.
“It's difficult for clubs to cover for every eventuality but they must be seen to be doing something. The rules and regulations are brought in by umbrella bodies so there are no grey areas and everything is covered by insurance in black and white and you obey that or you're in trouble.
“There needs to be rules in place to cover for the eventuality of violent crowd behaviour so the breaches are dealt with appropriately and the message gets out that this behaviour is inappropriate.”
While the message on crowd behaviour is obvious, Harrison is also just as worried about the practice by many clubs to play unregistered players to fill up teams at short notice.
Football Far North Coast recently dealt with a case, its second of the season, of two players taking the field in a club match they were not registered for.
The code of conduct panel found there was evidence that a breach had occurred as a result because the players were ineligible for that division, their names were omitted from the match sheet and one of the players was actually suspended in another grade.
The panel placed the club on a monetary bond for 18 months for failing to follow the sport's regulations and the coach of the team was also place on a monetary bond for six months.
The registered player not under suspension was given a four-week suspension and the other player was suspended until the end of the 2009 season.
“I'm sure it happens all the time but there are huge insurance issues if someone gets injured,” Harrison said.
“I wonder if the clubs who do this realise how fraught with danger it is. What happens if an unregistered player is seriously injured or seriously injures another player?
“The aggrieved person could sue the club and possibly the umbrella body. The umbrella body would probably disavow the club because they had gone against the rules and there is also the possibility that the club's committee could be held liable.
“Playing unregistered players is deadly serious and it could mean the end of a club if they are unlucky.”
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.